By Judith Cookis Rubens
Nearly 10 years after its Broadway premiere, “Wicked” is still going strong.
Theaters sell out, super-fans bring their witch hats and quote favorite lines. The show – a prequel to the Oz story – has spawned long-running productions in several cities and two national tours.
This second tour, at Kalamazoo’s Miller Auditorium through Dec. 12, reminds us why it became so popular. Two reasons, really: Elphaba and Glinda.
Elphaba being the Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda, the sparkly Good Witch. Before they were the witches from the movie classic, “Wicked” shows us they were just girls in Oz, roommates at a sorcery school who mooned (and fought) over the same dashing guy, Fiyero.
Elphaba (Vicki Noon) is the outcast, whispered about because of her emerald-green skin, socially awkward, yet outspoken when she spots injustice. Glinda (Natalie Daradich) is the popular flirt who’s used to getting what she wants. At first, they’re oil and water together. But as the story progresses, we see each girl having a positive influence on the other (as the show stopper “For Good” explains).
The musical also reveals the backstory on the Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow, not to mention those flying monkeys and the Wonderful Wizard. There are plenty of laughs in the cleverly placed references to characters and movie dialogue.
But, setting aside an occasionally contorted plot, the gem of this musical is the girls’ complex friendship. There’s no clear villain or hero here. Each character possesses some qualities of dark and light.
It’s necessary, then, to have lead actors who can mine that. The chemistry between Daradich’s Glinda and Noon’s Elphaba feels authentic – like the frenemies that teenage girls so often are. Their voices blend amazingly well, and, without trying to imitate other famous leads before them, Daradich and Noon quietly bring their own gifts to the parts.
Noon (plucked from the Chicago “Wicked” cast) lets us peek at Elphaba’s sadness, not just her defiant nature. Her powerful, trust-yourself anthem, “Defying Gravity,” is worth a ticket alone. Watch for more of this young star.
Daradich, too, makes a perfect Glinda, preening and perky to start, though slowly softening. She never lets her slip into cartoonish caricature either (not even in the tempting “Popular”).
Both actors are supported by a fine cast, with standouts including Michelle London as the tragic Nessarose, Zach Hanna as lovesick Boq, and Don Amendolia, as the not-so-powerful Wizard. A polished singing and dancing ensemble keeps the energy high and the choreography tight.
Stephen Schwartz’ pop-infused music is surely catchy, but his lyrics have just enough wit to resonate deeper.
The tour retains the dizzying array of visual effects – a shimmering Oz, seamless set shifts within an ominous clock motif, and plenty of flying actors.
Susan Hilferty’s costumes complete the fantasy, from Glinda’s glittering ball gowns to the fanciful detail on the Ozians, Munchkins and winged monkeys.
As The Wizard tells Elphaba in one scene, “You have to give people what they want.”
For big, splashy musicals, that usually means compelling songs and story, laughs and plenty of fantasy. “Wicked” gets it right in one magical night.
Miller Auditorium, 2200 Auditorium Dr., Kalamazoo. Through Dec. 12. $40-$135. 269-387-2300. http://www.millerauditorium.com.